Last week, on Oct. 4, the world quietly celebrated the 50th anniversary of the start of the Space Age, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I.
The world's first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball, weighed only a couple hundred pounds, but dramatically upped the ante between the United States and the USSR. Among other things, it showed the possibility of being able to launch nuclear warheads by rocket across intercontinental distances.
And it began the famous "Space Race," in which the U.S. fell behind initially, then bypassed the Soviets.
Four years after Sputnik, in 1961, President Kennedy upped the ante again by declaring the moon to be the nation's goal. Both sides raced to be the first to land on an extraterrestrial body, and eight years after Kennedy's dramatic speech, and only 12 years after Sputnik, the U.S. landed the first pair of men on the moon. Just over three years and five more successful landings later, we quit. We've never been back.
It wasn't a matter of technology, it was a matter of lack of political vision. Having "won" the space race (to the moon) at least, the politicians couldn't see the reasons to keep going. We retreated to low earth orbit, where we've been stuck ever since. After reaching out 250,000 miles into space, no human has gone more than 300 miles from the surface of the planet since December 1972, despite the fact that the future of our species lies with the boundless resources of space.
Now, using an "Apollo on steroids" approach, we're planning on going back to the moon, and eventually, Mars. It will take twice as long as the original Apollo program and cost far, far more than the original project.
And we may not be the first one's back. The People's Republic of China is serious about putting their own astronauts (they call them tikonauts) back on the moon in a time frame similar to the Apollo project. The next man on the moon could very well be Chinese.
That could actually re-energize the manned exploration of our solar system by the United States. We've got a "race" again, that our myopic politicians can actually see. The Chinese, not our less than visionary Congress, could be the kick-start we need to move out again into the cosmos.
This time, we need to make the trip outworld to stay, and with a focus not on mere exploration, but rather the exploitation of space resources. It's the new Manifest Destiny for the United States, a true long-range vision for the future of not only our nation, but our planet.
It's time to get off the stick and reach for the stars again.
-- Kelly Everitt